Raquel Hermida Leyenda (left) is considered a defender of vulnerable populations
Raquel Hermida Leyenda (left) is considered a defender of vulnerable populations | Courtesy of Raquel Hermida Leyenda

Feminist lawyer faces obstacles in fight for women in Argentina

Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation of being a fighter. I’m not interested in conversation or negotiations—I want justice for my clients and am always ready for the next challenge.

Raquel Hermida Leyenda
Interview Subject
Raquel Hermida Leyenda is a criminal lawyer who specializes in gender violence. Since 2012, she has been part of a free support network organization for women in situations of violence.
She sponsored a complainant of the actor Juan Darthés, who was in the news in recent months due to actress Thelma Fardin’s rape accusation.
Background Information
Argentina recorded more than 250 femicides in 2020, one every 35 hours.

Argentina’s Ministry of National Security recorded 5,613 reported rapes and 20,950 sexual assaults in 2020, both figures that have steadily increased since 2015.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Threats, serious injuries, attempts to restrain and detain me, and more have marked my career as a female criminal lawyer in Argentina. These are just some of the abuses I face as I take on cases of femicide and abuse.

Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation of being a fighter. I’m not interested in conversation or negotiations—I want justice for my clients and am always ready for the next challenge.

Microaggressions and intimidation from the beginning

Situations of violence against women are an everyday occurrence in this jurisdiction. This is unfortunately mirrored in my profession, which mostly employs men and where many view women as vulnerable.

I started as a criminal lawyer when I was a very young adult. It is a difficult field for women, and the first obstacle I encountered was my colleagues. They could not tolerate a female lawyer being in their jurisdiction.

Women lawyers who work in criminal law are usually under the umbrella of the judiciary with fathers, husbands, or relatives who appointed them. They make their name after many years of practicing. Not me.

I recall a penitentiary unit where the men called me “ma’am” but called my colleague, a male lawyer, by our professional title, “Doctor.” I simply ignored them and refused to respond until they called me by my proper title.

When I first started out, I dressed up, wore a lot of makeup and styled my hair to seem older. I did so to disguise the fact that in addition to being a woman, I was very young. I didn’t want to give them any other ammunition.

Today, I don’t care about any of that. I wear anything I want, and let my work speak for itself.

A co-worker acts on his insecurity

In December, I had problems with a former partner. I had been working with him for 11 years. He realized that he had fallen behind my skill level, that the profession had abandoned him. When he realized that I, on the other hand, was succeeding and remained eager to continue growing, he felt threatened.

As a result, he tried to attack my professional stability and become number one in a case in which he was merely my assistant—one he had not even thoroughly read. He did this in front of the judge and the prosecutor. From then on, he stopped working with me.

This unacceptable act of aggression was very hard emotionally, and similar issues constantly arise. They feel threatened when people choose a woman over a man to defend them in important, high-profile cases.

I struggle sometimes to tolerate it all. But now, after so many years, no one calls me “ma’am.” Everyone recognizes me and gives me the respect I deserve.

Proud of my profession as lawyer

Some think a good lawyer isn’t an important part of a case. However, I always argue we are; after all, we are the ones who make the law come true.

My career as a criminal lawyer has given me too much satisfaction ever truly doubt it or second-guess my path. However, at times, I have wanted to leave it and try something new. I already teach, but If I stopped working as a criminal lawyer, I would dedicate myself completely to teaching criminal law.

My father predicted my profession when I was 5, when he said, “this girl is going to be a lawyer.” I come from a family of engineers who did not know how to fight for their rights or even to choose a table in a restaurant. I would put myself in front of the family group, give them orders and ask for things. I knew how to form an argument—I was a natural.

Without a doubt, I am privileged; my family always supported my studies. I struck off on my own at 24, which proved an important decision. I realized that family as an institutional concept is not a life goal that drives me. Thank God, as it would have taken time away from me to study, think, and work at reforming the judiciary’s handling of women’s issues.

My toughest case and a slow evolution to feminist rulings

The most difficult case I’ve had is of a woman who had killed her husband, a federal police officer. In this case, we managed to change the jurisprudence regarding the defense system in the context of gender.

Previously, every time a woman defended herself, the court treated her like a woman with a mental disorder. This case was the first in which a woman first offered an argument of self-defense, without claiming to be mentally unstable.

The Beatriz López case was processed before the Court of Lomas de Zamora, and it changed history. Thanks to that case, women do not need to claim to be crazy to defend themselves and can make use of Article 34 of the Penal Code as a legitimate defense. The law was modified and established that gender violence is a permanent crime and that one could defend oneself at any time.

The thing that needs to be changed is the mind of the judges; it is quite difficult and takes time. But I think it has more to do with culture.

From the point of view of gender equality, to evolve past the current patriarchy, I believe that the judiciary needs new minds. I think that many current judges make rulings with feminist foundations simply because it looks good for their image. However, whatever the reason, society’s approval follows and reality, little by little, is changing.

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I am Rita Piris, an Argentine journalist and audiovisual communicator. I'm interested in technology and data visualization and convinced that access to information technologies is a means of democratizing information and culture.